Dispatches is a fortnightly e-mail bulletin of the JRS International Office. It features refugee news briefings, press releases, featured articles and project updates from our people in the field.


  Forty-six leading Congolese and international NGOs welcome Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework, but call for further action to make peace a reality

 
Displaced woman fleeing in Masisi, the site of recent violence in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (Danilo Giannese/JRS)

 

Additional stories about the crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo:
 

Groups say agreement is not enough and outline concrete steps that need to be taken

Reiterate call for UN, US and EU to appoint Special Envoys and greater regional involvement

Goma/Kinshasa/ Rome/ Washington DC, 24 February 2013 – A group of prominent Congolese and international NGOs today called on countries in the Great Lakes region, along with their international partners, to ensure that the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework Agreement signed in Addis Ababa is given the political backing necessary to bring an end to war in the eastern Congo.

In a published policy response and letters to DRC President Kabila, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, African Union Chairperson Dlamini Zuma, US President Barack Obama and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Catherine Ashton, the groups welcomed the Framework Agreement as an opportunity for a new kind of decisive engagement in a conflict that has persisted for two decades and ravaged the lives of millions of Congolese.

However, they also suggest that the Agreement will be hollow without specific additional measures, including the appointment of a high-profile UN Special Envoy with the power to mediate on both a domestic and regional level; the inclusion of Congolese civil society and Kinshasa's main bilateral and multilateral donor partners in the proposed national oversight mechanism; and the tying of donor aid to clear and agreed benchmarks and genuine collaboration between government, donors, and civil society.

The groups also called for the creation of a donor fund to support projects aimed at deepening regional economic integration to emphasize the benefits of regional stability; UN-mediated negotiations with armed groups that avoid the impunity characteristic of past deals; and substantial donor engagement to promote demobilization of rebel soldiers and regional economic integration.

"We need a new approach, a peace process based on the principles of justice", says Raphael Wakenge, Coordinator of the Congolese Initiative for Justice and Peace (ICJP). "Past peace deals have often closed their eyes toward impunity, allowing war criminals to be integrated into the army, police and security services. This has undermined the legitimacy of the peace process and the reputation of the security services, including the judiciary."

The Framework Agreement is based on two main points: bringing an end to foreign backing of Congolese rebellion movements, and fostering the comprehensive reform of state institutions such as the national army, police and judicial sectors. The groups today called on the facilitators and the eleven state signatories of the Framework to make sure that there are clear benchmarks in order to carry out these goals. They further suggested that donors should tie their aid to progress in the peace process.

"The Framework Agreement is a strong promise to the Congolese people, but past peace processes have stumbled due to a lack of transparency, weak international engagement and the absence of a comprehensive process", says Federico Borello, Great Lakes Director for Humanity United. "This time, it is imperative to tackle once and for all the Congo's root problems of impunity, regional interference, and state weakness. Without them, our best chance for peace will fail."

In addition, the groups also called on the international community, to show steadfast commitment that goes beyond the technocratic approach of recent years. In addition to calling for a UN Special Envoy, the groups called on the United States and the European Union to name special envoys to support the process, and on the African Union, the International Conference on the Great Lakes (ICGLR) and the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) to continue providing support to the process. They also called for a donor conference to commit the resources necessary to promote cross-border economic collaboration and deep-rooted reform of Congolese institutions.

"There has not been a solid peace process in the Congo since 2006, despite the escalation of violence since then", says Jason Stearns, Usalama Project director for the Rift Valley Institute. "The Framework Agreement provides hope, but it will require substantial political and financial capital to overcome entrenched interests."

The groups releasing the policy paper today included: The Jesuit Refugee Service Great Lakes, Action Aid, Action des Chrétiens pour l'Abolition de la Torture (ACAT), Action Humanitaire et de Développement Intégral (AHDI), Action pour la Paix et la Concorde (APC), Association pour le Développement des Initiatives Paysannes (ASSODIP asbl), Christian Aid, COJESKI Nyiragongo, Collectif des Organisations des Droits Humains et de la Démocratie au Congo (CDHD), Comité des Observateurs des Droits de l'Homme (CODHO), CordAid, Danish Refugee Council, Dynamique Synergie des Femmes, Enough Project, Eurac, Forum de la Femme Ménagère (FORFEM), Groupe Justice et Libération , Humanity United, IFDP, International Refugee Rights Initiative, ISS, Justice Plus, Ligue des Electeurs (L.E), Ligue pour la Cohabitation Pacifique et de Prévention des Conflits (LCPC), MDF, Norwegian Refugee Council, Peace and Human Rights Centre (PHRC), Réseau pour la Réforme du Secteur de Sécurité et de Justice (RRSSJ), Youth Program for the Development of Africa (YPDA).


A copy of the groups' recommendations can be found at – https://www.jrs.net/assets/Regions/IOR/media/files/comprehensive_approach_final.pdf

For more information, please contact:

Nina Blackwell | Humanity United
nblackwell@humanityunited.org
+1-917-584-4314

Jonathan Hutson | Enough Project
jhutson@enoughproject.org

Jason Stearns | Rift Valley Institute
jasonkstearns@yahoo.com
+254 787899568


Turkey: what we can do, we do

 
In 2009 JRS began work in Turkey, in agreement with a local non-governmental organisation: the KADER-Chaldean Assyrian Humanitarian Organisation. Turkey is both a destination and major crossroads for refugees from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan and Somalia who are hoping to reach Europe or awaiting resettlement. (Jesuit Refugee Service)

 
This is also the church in action, united in a common cause and helping others without distinction of nationality or religion. Against the vast tide of refugees flowing through this country we can do little, but we can do something; and what we can do, we do.  

Ankara, 19 February 2013 — The Jesuit Refugee Service in Ankara owes a debt of gratitude to 20 expat volunteers who on a regular basis volunteer their time and donate items to the JRS project. In the last month alone, JRS received almost 200 brand new blankets, 30 brand new jackets and 50 used jackets. The response to a call for two wheelchairs was answered within two hours.

Currently two volunteers are preparing a special English language programme for the needs of refugees who will shortly be resettled. The programme is essential to meet the needs of the refugees in first their first days upon arrival to their new homes. We also see more and more the involvement of amazing Turkish people who help quietly but in very considerable ways.

Recently two volunteers shared their reflections with us.

Human side of waiting. It's 10 am on Thursday. As I drive towards the gate it begins to slowly slide open along its rail. It's been snowing and is still well below freezing, but to the left of the gate, sitting with their backs to the wall, are people hidden under blankets. They have been there for hours. 

It's distribution day. At 10:30 the office opens and in they come, poor, bedraggled, half starved, half frozen people waiting for the aid we have to offer. Some speak Arabic, some Persian, some other languages.

They can now wait inside, but the waiting continues.

Then one by one they are called in, first a couple; then a family of seven; then a family of six; and so on. First, an interview in their native language. What do they need? How can we help? Then they enter another room where the requested items are assembled: pasta and rice, towels and blankets, clothes and shoes, and maybe toys for the children. 

As the day wears on we begin to run short. "A coat, a warm coat, I need a coat, it's so cold!" says an elderly lady. One of our refugee volunteers translates — she has little formal education but moves effortlessly between Persian, Arabic, Turkish and English. "The previous family had the last one", we tell her, "Come another week". Outside the snow has turned to rain.

These services are provided inside a Catholic Church in Ankara, organised by the Jesuits but implemented by Anglicans, Catholics, and Mormons, from Britain, the US, Poland, France, Belgium, Lebanon, and Spain.

The refugees come from Iran, Iraq, Syria and beyond, and have left their homes with quite literally the clothes on their back. One young couple has a baby a few weeks old. The mother is a university educated civil engineer with perfect English. Another refugee, an Iraqi man with a young family, has no right hand. "The war", he says with a shrug. What we can offer is small, but they all leave with something.

This is the human side of the immigration issue, of people who have been to hell and back – a hell created by others. But this is also the church in action, united in a common cause and helping others without distinction of nationality or religion. Against the vast tide of refugees flowing through this country we can do little, but we can do something; and what we can do, we do.

Fr John Higgins, an Anglican priest from United Kingdom

Service is love. Living in turkey is such a huge opportunity for me. It is a big adventure that I never expected at this point of my life, but it wasn't until I began to volunteer at the Refugee Centre that I felt that there was a particular reason for me to be here. It is wonderful for me to have something so meaningful to do with my life. I believe this opportunity is a gift from God, to bless my life and make me a better person.

I believe that one of the reasons we have each been blessed with life is to learn to love. It is easy to love one's family and close friends, but to have a chance to learn to love people from very different backgrounds is truly a blessing. To discover that someone who a few years ago, I might have regarded with suspicion or as an enemy has all of the same emotions, fears and loves as I do, has been transforming for me.

My students are funny, sweet, kind people who find themselves caught up in terrible difficulty. They are nearly powerless to determine their own destiny, victims of politics and power. It is very humbling to see them trying so hard to improve themselves with language and art training, and trying to help one another as well.

I am awed by their resilience and strength, even in the face of tremendous trials. I love being with them, and have developed strong friendships with my students.

Jesus said, "If ye do it unto one of the least of these, you do it unto me". Service is love and I am learning a great deal about love at the Refugee Centre. Thank you for allowing me to be part of this great work.

Annette Stacy, volunteer from Salt Lake City, USA


Kenya: providing a safety net for the vulnerable

 
Agnes Asiimwe (left) of JRS Nairobi Urban Project addressing beneficiaries of the safety net programme during a meeting in Nairobi. (Charles Njanga/JRS)

 
I've been able to expand my food business in Kayole after I retired from Telkom, Kenya. I'm now able to feed my family better.  

Nairobi, 18 February 2013 – On a sunny Friday morning, St Theresa's Church Hall in Eastleigh, Nairobi, comes alive as people slowly trickle inside. A mixed crowd of men and women, each carrying a small bag, waited for the last meeting of the JRS initiative for urban refugees running small businesses in the Kenyan capital. The 45 beneficiaries of the JRS Nairobi Urban Project, received food and material assistance as a way of providing a safety net while they invested in their businesses (income-generating activities IGAs). 

The four month initiative, which ended last month, was launched after a study conducted by the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) and the Danish Refugee Council in May 2012 revealed that refugee-run IGAs in Nairobi were not expanding. The survey found the income earned was only enough to meet the basic needs of refugees, and was not invested back into the businesses. It recommended refugees receive food and material support for four months, giving them space to invest their profits.

The programme also sought to stabilise household consumption and strengthen the capacity of community-based self-help groups to deliver social assistance. After convening the meeting, the JRS Nairobi Urban Project IGA Coordinator, Agnes Asiimwe, invited the group members to explain the impact the initiative made on their lives. After some prodding, one woman volunteer spoke. 

"I've been able to grow my business; initially I only sold weaved baskets, but now I also sell vitenges [African print cloth]. The assistance that I received from JRS has really uplifted my life such that I have been able to move to a better house", the women said proudly, to a round of applause and smiles from those present.

Integration into the host community was another key component of the programme. As urban refugees live among Kenyans, in frequently very marginalised communities; the inclusion of five Kenyans in the group strengthened interdependence of national and refugee communities, helping avoid ideas that refugees are favoured over locals.

Testimonies. "I've been able to expand my food business in Kayole (Nairobi) after I retired from Telkom, Kenya. I'm now able to feed my family better", said Joseph, a Kenyan national. Participants like him are identified through six local Catholic parish church councils and are among the most vulnerable in the community.

"I'm very grateful for the assistance from JRS. My children are now able to get food and go to school. God will surely bless Kenyans for the assistance they have given refugees", said Mary* who sells deep fried cassava in two Nairobi neighbourhoods. With JRS assistance, her business has been able to expand to include basket weaving.

According to Mathias Mbisu, a JRS Social Worker based in Eastleigh, the distribution of food and non-food items has greatly assisted the beneficiaries of the safety net programme. 

"They've been able to concentrate on their businesses and not worry about feeding their families", says Mathias.

As part of follow-up for the programme, JRS staff members visit the beneficiaries where they are residing to see how they are doing.

Achievements. At the start of the initiative all 45 participants had opened individual bank accounts to receive the social assistance and as a way to encourage them to save. An evaluation carried out after two months indicated that 50 percent of the beneficiaries had been able to save in banks. Others had been able to increase the business stocks, diversify into other more profitable ventures or move to better houses.

As part of the exit strategy, JRS will provide training on business skills for participants. Leaving the hall, there is no doubt the lifestyles of the participants have improved. But the food distribution that day was to be the last, and the challenge will be to ensure former beneficiaries remain autonomous and to extend this type of support to new arrivals.

"With the end of the programme, there is the possibility the beneficiaries not being able to maintain their lifestyle but since the assistance had a clearly defined time frame, continued monitoring will ensure refugees have sustainable livelihoods", said Ms Asiimwe.

*This name has been changed to protect the identity of the person involved

JRS has been assisting urban refugees in Nairobi since 1991, responding to the urgent, unmet needs of newly arrived asylum seekers and refugees in the most vulnerable circumstances. JRS prioritises single women with large families, household heads without support, unaccompanied minors, persons with special needs or disabilities, older refugees, the sick, and those living with HIV/AIDS. In 2011, the urban emergency programme provided a range of services to more than 2,600 refugees, including the provision of food and non-food items, medical and financial assistance, pastoral and psychosocial support, and support for income generating activities.

Charles Njanga, JRS Eastern Africa Communications Coordinator


Syria: volunteers are essential to the work of JRS

 
Volunteers prepare for the arrival of 200 children for winter clothing distribution at the JRS house in Bab Touma, Damascus (Jesuit Refugee Service)

 
Additional stories about the work of JRS in Syria:

 

Beirut, 20 February 2013 – For many volunteers in Syria who spend their time working with the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), the day is only over once they have spoken to their family, and reassured them of their safety.

One way of getting around this was, explained, Huda*, JRS volunteer in Aleppo, to invite her father to work with her at the warehouse where distribution of emergency supplies, winter shoes and clothes takes place. This has sparked a trend amongst the other volunteers, who have also begun inviting their parents to take part.

"It's better than having them wait anxiously all day, and then nagging when you get home. This way, they are also involved and have a better understanding of what our work is. They also feel better about themselves because they are doing something".

With a recent increase of team members in Aleppo, the age range of the volunteers has widened from 17 to 70 years of age. In January alone, more than 7,000 individuals received assistance in the form of emergency relief from JRS Aleppo, most of which was delivered by volunteers.

"It's actually quite an advantage having adults on the team, because their life-experience comes in handy. The younger volunteers are well-meaning but are sometimes gullible and naïve."

Other projects in Damascus and Homs also depend heavily on volunteers.

Fouad Nakhla, SJ, the project director in Damascus speaks warmly about the volunteers who assist at the centres in Dwelaa and Bab Touma.

"Without the volunteers, our project would barely exist. We are nothing without them".

Currently there are up to 200 regular volunteers in Syria who help on a daily basis. At times, this number reaches 400 when activities take place in which more volunteers are needed.

Volunteers around the region. Similarly in Jordan, volunteers come from refugee communities – namely Iraqis, Sudanese, Somalis and Syrians – as well as other expatriate volunteers.

One of the most successful projects in Amman, Jordan was the initial evening classes for Sudanese and Somali refugees, spearheaded by an American volunteer.

In Lebanon and Turkey, a vibrant expatriate community is regularly called on for assistance. At St Joseph's Church in Beirut, many volunteers from local universities come to assist with packing food baskets and distributing them to refugee families within the city.

Agata Kawicka, who worked with JRS Turkey for four years explained.

"We can write about refugees, laws and systems, but in Ankara what is most amazing is the involvement and participation of the expat community in the project. The project would almost not exist without these 20 volunteers who come on a regular basis to help, or the hundreds of people who constantly donate items".

Last month alone JRS Turkey received 200 brand new blankets and 80 jackets in donation. A request for two wheelchairs was answered within a couple of hours.

"I can also see more and more Turkish people becoming involved. They are discreet, but they do a considerable amount for the refugees".

Currently in Ankara volunteers are preparing a special English-language programme to help refugees who will soon be resettled to English-speaking countries.

Nawras Sammour SJ, JRS Middle East and North Africa Director, praised volunteers for their support.

"Our volunteers in the region are completely devoted to the people we serve. In Syria, sometimes they risk their lives, coming to and from our centres even when fighting is nearby".

How can you help? If you would like to support the work of JRS in Syria and the surrounding countries, you can do so here.

Zerene Haddad, JRS Middle East and North Africa Communications Officer


  JRS DISPATCHES is sent from the International Office of the Jesuit Refugee Service, 00193 Roma Prati, Italy. Tel: +39 06 69 868 468; fax: +39 06 69 868 461; email: dispatches.editor@jrs.net; JRS online: http://www.jrs.net; Publisher: Peter Balleis SJ; Editor: James Stapleton; Translation: Carles Casals (Spanish), Edith Castel (French), and Simonetta Russo (Italian).

Dispatches No. 334
Editor: James Stapleton